BUCKTOWN — You could be sourcing your Fourth of July BBQ meats and vegetables from a new East Bucktown market packed with food from Midwest farmers while also shopping alongside revered chefs — and on a weekday, to boot.
Rendering of Local Foods, 1427-55 W. Willow St. in Bucktown, by Space Architects + Planners.
With its retail store set to open this summer, the goal behind Local Foods — motto: "know the source" — is to continue refining a distribution pipeline that is already helping local farmers to be more profitable.
Since it opened as a wholesaler last March, Local Foods' distribution reach has grown to achieve monthly sales of $220,000, according to a news release.
When Local Foods debuts its new 27,000-square-foot farmhouse red complex, which includes a retail market and lunch counter, chefs and consumers will have access to a greater variety of goods at a possibly cheaper cost.
"Generally, we believe that we will be price competitive to farmers markets with added convenience," said Chicago Local Foods LLC's CEO Andrew Lutsey.
For consumers, added perks include year-round access to locally sourced produce, such as fresh milled grains, charcuterie and frozen fruits like blueberries.
They will also work with "a lot of four-season producers that have lots of salads and micro greens” in winter and will have storage crops like apples, parsnips and turnips, Lutsey said.
Just west of Lincoln Park and on Bucktown's eastern outskirts, Local Foods will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
For the 100 farmers that are suppliers to Local Foods, the perks include assistance with delivery. Local Foods will provide trucks to help some of the smaller family farmers transport and deliver product from their farms to Chicago.
"Until now, there have been few channels for small scale family farms to sell products in Chicagoland beyond farmers markets," Local Foods' CFO Ryan Kimura said.
During a tour attended by about 100 people on Wednesday — mainly chefs, farmers and media — Rob Montalbano said that he no longer wakes up at 3 a.m. to drive from his Sandwich, Illinois-based farm to the city's farmers markets.
"I have stopped doing [farmers] markets. The Local Foods' distribution arm allows us to get a much larger distribution," Montalbano said.
Alisa Hauser says they hope to keep food costs competitive:
At the Local Foods Tour:
While standing in a 1,200-square-foot room that will become a deep freezer that can store sweet corn and snap peas, among other produce, chef Jared Van Camp said that he used Local Foods in January to get heirloom tomatoes to use in cold-pressed juices at his Logan Square juice bar.
Ceres' Table Chef Giuseppe Scurato said he is planning to frequent Local Foods.
"I want to badly work with them for seasonal produce, fresh meat and fish. Many of us have been waiting for [Local Foods retail outlet] to become reality. I can come and pick out what I need personally, or have it delivered," Scurato said.
Rob Levitt, a Local Foods partner as well as head butcher and manager of "everything meat," will be quartering and halving whole animals in-house.
"Day one, we will have 10 pigs hanging with a home and intent for every last scrap," Levitt said.
Levitt's Butcher and Larder will occupy close to one-fifth of the building, which will also feature a 4,000-square-foot retail market with an area for classes and demonstrations.
The added space will allow Levitt and his team to butcher five times as many pigs and cows than they are doing now, he said.
"I'm completely and totally overwhelmed in the best possible way. This will change the way food is sold in the whole country," an impassioned Levitt predicted.
Levitt will be closing his Noble Square shop, 1026 N. Milwaukee Ave., when Local Foods opens.
"We will keep the Butcher & Larder name, logo and more importantly our personality, but we are one entity now with Local Foods," Levitt explained.
Levitt butchering a pig during a class at Mado, 2010:
When asked if a pricing structure has been put in place yet, Lutsey replied, "Not fully, but our goal is to keep prices as competitive as possible while still paying farmers, producers and processors a very competitive and fair wage."
Lutsey added, "Over time, we hope to continue to scale up local producers so that their costs decrease as well."
In addition to consumers having access to "a full catalog of the best the Midwest has to offer, including grains, eggs, cheeses and pasture-raised meats," Lutsey said Local Foods' "destination worthy" lunch counter will be stocked with soups, cured meats, cheeses and sandwiches.
Grocery delivery will be available, too, though it will be outsourced to companies that are already doing deliveries, Lutsey said.
Will Local Foods Threaten Nearby Competition?
Just around the corner from Local Foods, Stanley's Fruits and Vegetables, 1558 N. Elston Ave., offers produce on its shelves from 50 to 60 Midwest farms, "organic and conventional," manager and second-generation owner Peter Panagiotaros said.
The approximately 11,000-square-foot market, which Peter Panagiotaros' father Stanley opened in 1967, also offers spices. It has a small deli counter but does not offer in-house butchering.
Panagiotaros was unaware of Local Foods until a reporter informed him.
"So many other guys opening up; there's Mariano's opening like gangbusters. We stay our path and we do our jobs," Panagiotaros said.
When asked if he believes Local Foods could pose a competitive threat to longtime enterprises like Stanley's Market, Lutsey said, "When you think about local you might just think produce, but the Midwest actually has a lot more to offer beyond produce, like grains, meats, and other value-added goods that come from items grown in the Midwest."
Lutsey continued, "It’s great that fruit and vegetable stores offer Midwestern produce; our mission is to help Chicagoans eat more locally, and we believe that the more people on board with this mission the better for all involved."
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